SimCity DS Review
Posted by Thomas Bowskill
The big city is here... on the little DS.
Sim City is arguably one of the best simulation games out there: it practically wrote the book on the genre. On the PC it's a tried and tested formula. But, never before has it made a comfortable transition to any other format. So, has Sim City DS achieved the grandeur of modern day society, or does it bear more semblance to the dark ages?
The concept of Sim City is simple. You are the mayor of a city, and it is your duty to ensure that your city expands and thrives. There are no levels, no bosses, and no end to the game; you play how you want and when you want. But to call this game simple is a total understatement. See, the thing about Sim City is that there are so many details that need to be considered at all times. By no means is it just a case of plonking buildings down wherever it takes your fancy. Instead you need to be able to think and plan ahead - structuring your city in the most efficient way possible, and managing your budget in the most scrupulous of fashions.
At the basic level, a city consists of several key areas; Industrial, Residential and Corporate. These three, in harmony, will fuel the population and economy - pumping life into your city. When planning these you need to consider location (making people commute too far is never popular), industrial:residential:corporate ratios (no point in having large industrial areas if you lack the adequate population to fill them) and how much you wish to spend on these areas. But while these sectors may be the crucial building blocks to your city, by no means are they the complex part of Sim City...
Once you have established where you want each zone, you will need to create the cities travel network, whilst being extremely careful not to paint yourself into a corner. You basically have a choice of roads and trains, with a hybrid of both being the best option. When you create these networks you allow for expansion. However, at the same time you create pollution, so you need to get some green in the area to fight this - costing you more money. And because you are rapidly expanding; waste, power usage, fire risk, theft, and illnesses will start to increase- giving you yet more things to spend money on. It's the Mayor's duty to combat these effects by establishing land fills, emergency services, power plants and prisons. But by doing this you will increase the monthly government spending, so taxes will most probably have to rise. And of course, you will have to ensure that your population has sufficient education and entertainment...
To sum it up, there is a lot to learn in Sim City. Whilst the game provides a lengthy and thorough tutorial mode, a lot of the learning will come from trial and error. Alleviating some of this pressure is your own Personal Advisor who will help you manage the city. When you start a game you get the option to choose a PA based upon a series of questions. In theory this is a nice feature that slightly shifts the dynamic of the game. PAs themselves won't do your work for you. But, they do offer advice that differs from PA to PA depending on their personality. Personally, I found my PA to be a bit useless; offering redundant and repetitive advice. For example: whenever I had a problem with my city I would consult my PA. However, 8/10 times he would give me some generic advice that had nothing to do with the glaringly obvious issues in the city. Had there been an option for specific advice, rather than the bland and repetitive statements that they tend to blab, then the PA system would have been perfect. Really though, the core gameplay experience is highly addictive, so I can easily forgive EA for their lack of development in the Human Resources department.
The one key area where this game had the potential to slip up was the controls. Usually, when games like Sim City are ported from the PC they lose the precision and fluidity that you gain from the use of a mouse and keyboard. However, no other (popular) gaming platform has ever used a touch screen. All I can say is that the sheer simplicity of the controls is thoroughly refreshing: there are practically no buttons involved! All commands are executed through use of the touch screen. The result? A game that rivals the PC version for playability. However, because of the heavy dependency on touch controls and the level of precision required, this isn't one of the most portable games around. A slight jump on the train can cause more chaos in your city than Godzilla ever could!
There isn't much to complain about with the graphics either. The cities look nice when you are zoomed out, tending to get a bit pixelated upon closer inspection. But, at the end of the day, you can see what's going on, so that's all that matters. You're not really going to be buying a simulation game for the graphics afterall. The music on the other hand is a total irritant. I'd give you 5 minutes before the volume is set straight to zero. Although, that being said, who would ever expect decent music from a city simulation game?
If there is one drawback I can see to Sim City, it's the loading times. The vast level of detail stored by the game means that saving and loading takes slightly longer than your average DS title (which is not that long at all). But again, I am clutching at straws for bad points in a game that has few - it's nothing near the loading times from the DS's rival, the PSP.
Sim City is a well polished and enjoyable city simulation game for the DS; EA really haven't left much room for improvement. From start to the impossible to reach finish, the whole system is ridiculously addictive and well executed. For those who like planning and statistics, this is an essential buy; there are countless hours of enjoyment to be sought through this title. For those who like fast paced action and flashy visuals, there is nothing here for you. So the bottom line? If you like simulation games, get Sim City... now!